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Our Greatest Delusion with English subtitles  

I'm not sure what I expected to find when I went to Chernobyl. I mean it's been so long

since the nuclear reactor there melted down and spewed radioactive atoms across the land.

So for almost thirty years this place has been virtually abandoned. These days workers

are allowed into the zone but only for two weeks at a time. And that's not because the

levels of radiation are too high, it's actually for psychological reasons. More than two weeks

in a place like this will apparently make you think strange things. And I was only here

for four days but I started to think about rocks.

Yeah... rocks.

Rocks appear to be permanent. I mean I know that they aren't. Mountains are constantly

eroding and in places the crust is melting back into

the mantle. Rock obviously isn't permanent but on the scale of a human life, it is and

people recognized that fact - rocks are permanent - for thousands of years and I think that's

what makes them important to us. I mean, "a diamond is forever"

We build these monuments out of rock because they will outlast us and virtually every other

material we can think of. Our modern structures of metal and glass are just rock refined by

our ingenuity. Rocks are both practical and symbolic. We seek to indentify ourselves with

rocks. We carve our heroes in stone because we want them to last forever and there's a

way in which we want that kind of permanence for ourselves too. I think it's in the core

of the desire to scratch our name into stone, put your initials in wet cement, really man-made

rock, or fasten a padlock to a bridge. In this way we try to push our impermanence from

our minds. The monuments, statues and bridges, they give us a sense of continuity, stability.

That this is the way it is and the way it's always been. Like the way we first we concieved

of stars: static, unchanging, eternal. And this way of viewing the world helps us maintain

our greatest delusion: the thought that we are in any way eternal. We want to believe

that some part of us, our consciousness or our soul will last forever. But what do you

make of it then when you see stone is not even so permanent?

Walking around Chernobyl I think it's understandable I started contemplating not only the permanence

of rocks but also their decay, and by extension, our decay, death, what the world would look

like without people.

You know the closest I can come to imagining true nothingness is to picture the universe

running really fast in reverse. All the galaxies squeezing closer together, stars expanding

back into gas clouds and everything getting hotter and denser, compactifying until the

whole observable universe could fit into a room and then sinking further into a tiny

point and then... nothing. Not the nothingness of empty space but real nothingess which has

no size and no time. To me that is probably what death looks like, a nothiness so complete

you wouldn't even miss it. For that, you'd have to be there. But just as soon as I can

form this thought, it evaporates like a void in nature. The world rushes in to fill it.

And this make sense because the hardware I'm running has been developed over billions of

years with the only requriement being that it frequently and accurately makes copies

of itself and it would help not in the slightest in the goal of making copies if the hardware

could accurately simulate its own non-existence. When we do acknowledge our impermanence, it

is often through insipid catch phrases like "yolo" or it's in art projects like Damien

Hirst's "The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living", which is just

a huge shark in a tank of formaldehyde. A sense of our mortality should strike fear

into us, like the sense I have when I'm swimming hundreds of meters off shore and the water

below is deep and dark and I can picture the shark swimming beneath me. The same kind of

fate stalks us daily but not in this visceral way, just in trivial ignorable way. Hence

the delusion. You're permanent like stone, always were and always will be. So we are

left hardwired for denial, a selected inability to imagine true nothingness, an ephemeral

sack of particles that thinks itself eternal. This delusion is comforting and it

makes living easier. It might drive you crazy to be confronted with the ultimate meaninglessness

of everything all the time, what we call nihilism. But the same delusion I'd argue is also debilitating.

It lulls you into a false sense of security, inaction, like a due date a long time in the

future. There's always tomorrow so we procrastinate living the life we truly desire and we live

in more fear. The sense that your soul is eternal makes you cowardly because failure

would stick with you forever. For really ever. Shame, embarassment, disappointment, they

would never leave you. A distant horizon encourages you to play it safe. Live to fight another

day, for after all there is always another day. And this is why I find nihilism liberating

and emboldening. If you can really picture the nothingess that awaits you then what is

there to be afraid of? Errors and humiliations will be forgotten but great achiements may

not. We may have no meaning in the cosmic context of the universe but we make our own

meaning daily with each other and this is the thought that leads to action: your days

are numbered, you don't know what that number is but it's finite, so get busy with what

it is you want to do. Time is running out.

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